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The Eyes Have It - Street Smarts (permalink)

Some things are obvious, at least to anyone who is paying attention.

A few days ago, I was the back-up unit for one of my officers who had stopped someone with an outstanding arrest warrant in the parking lot of a local business. As I arrived, he was getting ready to put the handcuffs on our Guest of Honor.

It was pretty apparent, even through my increasingly myopic eyes, that our suspect had every intention of leaving the scene posthaste rather than in the back of a patrol car.

Without being asked, he was standing with his hands above his head and giving every indication of surrender to the officer. However, the unmistakable darting glances toward the street gave him away.

As I pulled into the parking lot, our catch of the day looked crestfallen. Apparently he decided that the minor warrant wasn’t worth trying to outrun two officers, one of whom was young and athletic, while the other appeared slow, but was extremely bad-tempered.

After the gentleman was secured, I talked to my officer.

“He was getting ready to bolt,” I observed.

“I had already worked out how to body-check him into the concrete light post if he ran.”

I was pleased that the young patrolman had seen the signs and developed a plan. It was a good strategy, especially since the guys all know how I giggle like a schoolgirl when criminals inadvertently leave teeth scattered on the pavement.

Unlike my teenage daughter, who is constantly admonishing, “Daddy, don’t judge!” anyone who deals with people in uncertain circumstances must develop the skills to read body language that can foreshadow malevolent action. One of the best ways to do this is by interpreting the appearance of the eyes.

As a poet once remarked, “The eyes are the window to the soul,” but it is amazing how many people don’t bother to take a peek inside.

I suppose it’s understandable. We constantly focus on hands because they are the part of the body that can hurt you. However, it’s a pretty good idea to check out those peepers, because they might give you a good idea of what the hands are getting ready to do.

The most obvious thing we can discern from eyes is deceit. Most of us believe that someone who can’t “look you in the eye” is lying, but unfortunately this old chestnut is far from foolproof; for instance, the person might just be shy.

They also might be from a different ethnic background, where casting eyes aside or downward is normal when speaking to someone. In fact, they might consider it rude and even defiant to look someone squarely in the eye. It pays to understand the cultural norms of people with whom you interact on a regular basis.

However, there’s a body of research indicating that eye movements do tend to unconsciously signal the inner thoughts of the person. Obviously in tactical situations, reading such subtle clues is often impractical, but there is one that I have used on the street.

According to some scientists, when a person (especially a right-handed person) looks down and to the right when answering a question, it means they are having a strong internal debate or dialogue. Depending on the situation at hand, I have found that this movement can signal that the person was deciding whether to tell the truth, fight or flee.

It’s pretty obvious that a fixed glare is a precursor to trouble. Someone who looks at you with an unblinking stare is very angry and probably on the verge of attacking. This would be a good moment to take pre-emptive action or attempt to de-escalate the situation, based on the circumstances.

If you confront someone whose eyes are wide open to the point there is a significant amount of white visible, you’re dealing with someone who is extremely emotionally aroused. This is a tremendous danger sign and often indicates someone who has stepped over the line of rationality.

Where a person is looking reveals much about their thoughts. For instance, if a person is being cooperative, but constantly stealing glances over your shoulder, it could mean they’re trying to figure out which direction they’re going to run, as described in the incident that opened this column.

Another reason for glancing away is that the person is worried about someone or something they don’t want you to find. It defies logic, but it’s very common for people to continually take a quick look toward the location of concealed contraband or a buddy hiding in the closet.

Along the same lines is someone who stares at your weapon or its location (if concealed). There are numerous in-car videos of assaults in which the suspect continually looks at a police officer’s weapon prior to disarming him or her. This is called a “targeting glance,” and you should create distance and take much firmer control of the situation when this occurs.

Perhaps the most dangerous time is when someone is simply “looking through” you. If someone is boring straight through your chest with their glare and not really listening to your words, get ready for an all-out assault because they’re close to the brink.

The state of a person’s pupils also tells you a great deal. Someone with either widely dilated or tiny pinpoint pupils is probably operating in an alternate mental state, typically from the ingestion of some chemical. This might mean they have the reflexes of a 90-year-old arthritis patient, but it could also mean they’re hopped up on something that makes them paranoid, aggressive and insensitive to pain. A few quick questions should fill in the blanks about their level of functioning.

Ultimately, a person’s hands are the most dangerous part of their body. However, we can’t stop there when sizing up a situation. A quick check of the eyes might reveal information our adversary didn’t plan on sharing, such as the intention to attack.

Obviously, in both politics and interpersonal conflict, the “eyes” usually have it.

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